On the lack of playbooks – and what to do about it

comment 1
Miscellanous / Thursday

It’s well known that most things worth doing are hard. Anything with outsized rewards will have a large number of people going for it and so there needs to be barriers to entry. To quote the late computer scientist Randy Pausch, “Walls exist for a reason – it’s to keep out people who don’t want it enough.”

But another common thing about hard things is that there is rarely a playbook for how to do them. Want to make an IKEA bed? You’ll find multiple manuals on how to do it. Want to become the president of the US – you don’t even though where to start!


So I think one of the things that people who have succeeded in life in any way can do is write and share playbooks to getting where they are.

You don’t have to be the president to write one. Nor do you have to write one for everyone in the world who wants to be where you are (advice is usually context-specific).

But let’s say you are come from an underrepresented part of the world and you get into Harvard. You can write a playbook about how to get into Harvard for your community. Be as specific as possible (sometimes NDAs and other legal things can prevent you from giving away the really good stuff), but even general principles help. This easily extents to hard-to-get jobs, entrepreneurs, and writers.

The ROI for such an exercise is two-sided. One, you help someone who is like you and wants to get where you are. Second, it’s an amazing reflection exercise. In the course of writing a playbook, you get to answer questions like “What were my core strengths?”, “What were avoidable mistakes – did I have to make in order to learn a lessons or could I have absorbed it from external sources?”, “What part did luck play and what did I do to prepare to take advantage of any lucky breaks?”. Even if you want to be purely self-interested, answering these questions is a high ROI time investment.

In this vein, I will try and use this platform for at least a couple of playbooks in the remaining weeks of this project. I will also discuss the book Who Gets What – and why by Alvin E. Roth, a Nobel Prize winning economist for his work on market design. This book touches on these topics.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Lessons from Scott Norton – A Summer of Learning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s